Without Planned Parenthood, the new Texas Women’s Health Program (TWHP) has seen a 23 percent reduction in medical claims and thousands fewer Texans enrolled in the program in the first half of 2013 as compared to the same period last year, when the program was still the Medicaid Women’s Health Program. The state’s explanation? Women just don’t want to change doctors.
“We expected to see a drop off in the number of claims when we moved to the state program because we knew some women wouldn’t want to change doctors,” said Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) spokesperson Stephanie Goodman in a statement this week.
Goodman’s statement is at best glib and at worst a kind of victim-blaming that puts the responsibility for the state’s failure to provide low-cost reproductive health care squarely on the shoulders of the very people it is supposed to be serving.
The TWHP provides contraceptives and well-woman exams to low-income Texans. From 2007 to 2012, it operated as part of Medicaid, receiving a 90 percent federal match in funds and, at peak enrollment, saw almost 130,000 clients. But in 2012, the state kicked Planned Parenthood out of participating in the program because it considers the organization to be an abortion “affiliate” and thereby ineligible to provide health care using public funds in Texas. At that time, the federal government dropped its support of the program because the arbitrary exclusion of any qualified health provider from a Medicaid program is a violation of the Social Security Act, which dictates that Medicaid enrollees have a right to receive care from the physician of their choosing. To fund a program that denies Texans the ability to see the qualified doctor of their choice would, according to the Center for Medicaid Services, be a violation of its own law.
Undeterred, Texas launched a new, entirely state-funded Women’s Health Program in January of this year, and so far it has seen its service numbers plummet without the involvement of Planned Parenthood, which historically saw about half of all Women’s Health Program patients.
According to preliminary data provided by the Texas HHSC, current enrollment in TWHP is estimated to be about 97,000 clients, the lowest number of enrollees since September 2009, when the program was just two-and-a-half years old. This July, the TWHP counted over 10,000 fewer enrollees than it did in the same month last year. Add this to the fact that, according to the University of Texas’ Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TPEP), more than 60 family planning clinics in Texas—most of which were not Planned Parenthood facilities—have closed since 2011 due to family planning funding cuts, and it’s clear that there’s a serious, and growing, hole in Texas’ reproductive health safety net.
And yet the state says that if fewer and fewer low-income Texans are receiving publicly funded reproductive health care, it must be because women don’t want to change doctors. Considering the very real logistical, physical, and emotional challenges women face now that they have been forced by the state government to find new reproductive health providers, the HHSC’s statement seems an egregious simplification of a deeply complex and personal issue.
Amanda Stevenson, a TPEP researcher who studies the impact of family planning budget cuts on low-income Texans, told RH Reality Check that research shows changing doctors is not simply about personal preferences, but rather about the complex ways Texans choose their providers and the many factors that influence their decisions.
“There’s lots of other complexities that are hidden by [Goodman's] statement,” Stevenson said, citing spatial distribution and capacity of providers as just two factors that affect whether someone is able to switch to a new doctor. “Maybe you don’t want to go to a doctor who is 50 miles from you, but you also sort of can’t,” she said. “Preference is not the right framework for this.”